Archie Bunker, Diversity Champion

As I write this we’re coming to the end of our initial planning for next year’s editorial calendar. We’ve had a conference call with our editorial advisory board, debated the merits of each article on the proposed calendar and discussed in detail the themes that will resonate over the next 12 months.

Several themes emerged. One is globalization. This is not just about the widespread push into emerging markets or about fine-tuning global workforce operations, but rather the need for cultural competence. While the board patted us on the back, it also challenged us to push the envelope by envisioning the diversity executive as a leader who can lend business expertise, not just talent and diversity expertise, and thereby enable growth on multiple fronts.

As we debated each theme’s pros and cons and tossed around ideas on what to explore, one board member mentioned that she was increasingly hearing that inclusion was moving away from diversity and becoming more of a talent management issue.

Naturally, this prompted quite a bit of heated debate and got me thinking. Yes, there are some elements of inclusion that logically fit within a talent management framework. Few conversations about diversity will not bring talent in at some point. But what exactly is the problem with the word diversity?

Why is it so contentious? Is it the history behind it? Hard feelings, grudges, frustration at the slow rate of change or anger over mistreatment? Is it all of those things and more besides? I don’t know and I don’t think the answer is simple. But I do know that the widespread tendency to avoid the subject from the top of the house down to entry-level employees needs to stop.

Words are powerful. Some are more politically charged than others, but that doesn’t mean avoiding them with semantic substitutions will help. What’s really missing — and what keeps tension in diversity discussions and exacerbates this need to avoid the topic — is an element of fun. I’m not saying diversity isn’t serious, but we don’t have enough fun. We don’t talk freely. We don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room, at least not enough to start walking around that big ole sucker and using the trunk for a coat rack.

And we should. I started thinking about fun as a diversity solution, laughter specifically, because someone sent me a YouTube link to an old episode of “All in the Family.” I’m dating myself — I was a child when this show and its spinoff “The Jeffersons” were popular in the early 70s — but the show’s main character, Archie Bunker, was unashamedly racist. He had strong opinions and ideas about how things should be and what would happen to the world if his views weren’t implemented. Of course, he was full of it. But he was funny, he was honest and he was unashamed to express thoughts that were outside the norm.

He wasn’t scared to hurt someone’s feelings. Archie enjoyed the debate that followed his outlandish comments. He seemed to thrive on it, whether or not his family agreed. When it was over they were still family, still talking and still doing their thing.

Archie’s living room and that ragged recliner he was always sitting in were like a free forum. That comfortable room could be a stand-in for the type of culture diversity-savvy organizations try to build, sans misogyny and racism, of course. Instead, we’ll keep the open forum and honesty, and ensure that all people understand the mission and feel comfortable expressing opinions in a respectful way, knowing they will be valued and heard, even if they’re not actively used.

Our editorial advisory board operates a bit like that new and improved living room. Everyone chimes in and no one is afraid to disagree because we know each person has a different perspective and different experiences — that’s what we want, because those practitioners represent the voice and concerns of our readers.

To listen, to encourage, to potentially disagree and even to argue; these things should not be frightening. Better out than in, I say. When things aren’t aired, they may start to stink.
Pretend you’re Archie Bunker and don’t hesitate to reach out to let us know what you think about the magazine. We welcome your input and suggestions. After all, without you, there would be no us.